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Authors: Martyn Waites

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BOOK: Born Under Punches
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‘I've just remembered … the car … I'll get a ticket if I don't move it. Quick. C'mon.' He grabbed her again.

She pulled her arm away, anger in her eyes. ‘Tony, I haven't even said goodbye to my friends yet. Or told them where I'm going.'

‘Don't worry, you'll be all right.' He looked straight at her, panic in his voice, fear in his eyes. ‘Please. We have to leave now.'

Louise sighed. ‘Come on, then.'

They said hasty goodbyes, sketched waves to their friends, and Tony dragged Louise towards the side exit.

‘You'd better have a fucking good explanation for dragging me round like this.'

‘Oh, I have,' said Tony, dashing through the door. ‘I have.'

Tommy Jobson had pulled the BMW up directly in front of the vulgar monstrosity that he considered Rio to be, the Chairman of the Board blasting from the sound system. ‘Sounds for Swingin' Lovers'. Impossible to top. Nev, monolithic and monosyllabic, sat silently in the passenger seat.

‘Just wait here, Nev. This won't take lu-lu-long.'

Nev grunted his assent.

Tommy got out of the car, walked towards the main doors of the bar, palmed a folded twenty to the doorman, walked straight in. The noise, heat and smell hit him. At least the women here looked like they'd made an effort, he thought. Not like the other place. Music's still shit, though.

Tommy scoped the room. This was the place, definitely. Every Saturday after a home game, Tony Woodhouse ended up in here. And it was time for that arrogant little shit to pay. One way or another.

Tommy's eyes locked on the target.

Tony looked around. Tommy tried to hide behind some lagered-up lad, retain the element of surprise, but Tony had seen him.

Tommy pushed through the crowded bar, displacing bodies and drinks, ignoring threats and names, shrugging off attempts to grab him. He reached the spot where Tony had stood, but he was too late. The bastard had flown.

Tommy looked around, struggling to keep his welling anger contained. He saw the side exit, the fire door bar down and wide open, and pushed his way quickly towards it, through it, and out on the street, alone but for the usual Saturday-night drunks weaving their way around the pavement. No sign of Tony Woodhouse.

‘Fu-fu-fuck!' shouted Tommy aloud and sighed in exasperation. Composing himself, he slowly made his way back to the car.

He had other visits to make, other things to do with the night, other opportunities for fun. He would catch up with Tony Woodhouse eventually.

And that would be worth seeing.

Tony held Louise in his arms, moving his hands slowly over her body. When he strayed too far down or crossed some invisible line, he felt her move, twist away from his grip, shift to a less intrusive position. He didn't mind, though. Holding her was enough.

They were on the dancefloor of the Tuxedo Princess, a floating disco ship moored on the Tyne, moving slowly together to the last few songs of the night. Paul McCartney's ‘No More Lonely Nights' had given way to Jeffrey Osbourne's ‘On the Wings of Love', ending the session with the Cars' ‘Drive'.

After leaving Whitley Bay, Tony had driven as fast as he dared down the coast road back towards Newcastle, the shock of seeing Tommy Jobson cancelling out the effects of the alcohol. Louise was still seeking an explanation for their sudden departure from Rio.

‘Someone came in that I didn't want to see,' Tony explained.

‘Who?'

Tony tried for lightness, didn't quite pull it off. ‘Oh, just some girl I used to know. Best not to see her. It would have been messy.' At least the last sentence was true. He looked at her, hoping to be believed. ‘I'm sorry, OK? It won't happen again. Let's just enjoy ourselves, shall we?'

Louise didn't answer, but Tony could tell from the look on her face that she wasn't happy with the explanation. He decided to change the subject.

‘So,' he said, giving her a fragile smile, ‘do you fancy a dance?'

They had then made their way to the Tuxedo Princess, where they ate, drank and danced.

The song finished, the lights went up and they found themselves looking at each other, eyes locked.

‘So,' said Tony, ‘who's going to drive you home tonight?'

Louise smiled. ‘The cab driver, I should think.'

‘I could. Or I could drive us both back to mine.'

Louise teased the corners of her lips into a smile. ‘What for?'

‘What d'you think?'

Her smile deepened. ‘Tony, I've really enjoyed tonight – really – but I don't sleep with someone as soon as I meet them. Plus, I've already got a boyfriend.'

Tony's head dropped. ‘Oh.'

‘That's not to say I don't want to see you again. Because I do.'

‘What about your boyfriend?'

The smile on her face teased and promised. ‘Let's be friends first and take it from there, shall we?'

Tony felt confused. Louise wasn't following the script. This wasn't the way it usually ended, but he felt quite excited by that fact. There was something different about her, something special. They could write a new script as they went along.

‘OK,' he said.

‘Good.' She reached into her bag, scribbled a note, passed it over. ‘This is my number. Call me.'

‘I will.'

‘We'll see.'

They made their way to the exit, queued at the rank. Louise was about to get into her cab when Tony put a hand on her arm.

‘Wait,' he said. ‘I don't even know your surname.'

‘It's Larkin. Louise Larkin.' She got into the cab. ‘Call me.'

And with that she was off, leaving Tony there alone, a gormless grin on his face.

‘I will,' he said and sighed. ‘What a day,' he said out loud and began walking towards his car.

For the first time that day, he didn't need the cameras or crowds to be with him.

2. Now

The Modern Age: A Prologue

The modern age, as we know it, began on Monday 28 May 1984. This is not a date plucked at random for its Orwellian connotations, nor is it an officially recognized one. Yet it was on this day that our country changed for ever, the time bomb was primed, the countdown began. And where did this singular event occur? Orgreave coke works outside Rotherham, South Yorkshire.

Margaret Thatcher's Conservative government had been returned to power for a second term by an apathetic landslide. People had voted for her because there was no credible alternative. Prior to the election, there had been discontented rumblings over Tory leadership: a distracting opportunity presented itself in the shape of a small conflict in the South Atlantic over the Falkland Islands, a jingoistic adventure which helped assure her a second term. Emboldened by this, she cast around for a suitable domestic target: she found the miners.

The NUM, under the leadership of Arthur Scargill, brought the workforce out on strike in protest at the closure of profitable pits. The majority of the general public were behind this action.

The government, for all their tough talking, were wavering. They were signalling negotiation, reconciliation. Then came Orgreave.

A scab labour force was in operation there; the NUM sent nearly three thousand pickets to stop it. The police, taken by surprise at the sheer number of men, did nothing. The protest was peaceful and productive. By and large, the picket line wasn't crossed. The miners were jubilant. By demonstrating solidarity they scented a real chance of victory.

The government, however, felt they had lost face. They wanted something done. They instructed the police to retaliate.

The following day, the NUM area representatives handed out the picketing orders: Orgreave had only a couple of hundred men assigned to it. The majority were sent to other collieries. It was a middle-management political decision. There was nothing Scargill at the top or the striking miners at the bottom could do about it.

Positions were reversed. Miners in their hundreds, police five thousand strong.

They waited until the TV cameras had moved away then charged.

Mounted police. Police dogs. Attacking indiscriminately. Anyone connected with the strike – male or female, young or old – was considered a legitimate target. Riot sticks were reintroduced for the first time in ten years. Their previous use had led to the death of an anti-Nazi demonstrator. People were truncheoned, trampled, bitten.

The miners fought back with anything they could get their hands on. Bricks. Stones. The long-standing pacifism of the labour movement forcibly abandoned. The jubilation of the previous day forgotten. It was a bloody rout, culminating with the arrest of Arthur Scargill.

Once released, Scargill wanted the forthcoming talks with the NCB to be conclusive: ‘I hope we will be able to lay the foundations of a settlement.'

It wasn't to happen. The government had seen what happened at Orgreave. Dissent quelled by force. Riot police and scab labour to keep production going. And, with the media collusion, no public outcry at the tactics.

NCB chief Ian MacGregor was instructed not to co-operate. To sit out the strike. Starve the miners out if necessary.

The police blueprint for Orgreave became standard operating procedure for dealing with conflicts during the strike. Coldwell was just one in a number of similar battles.

The success of these operations opened the doors in the government's collective mind. Allowed the unthinkable to be thought. If they could get away with this, they reasoned, they could get away with anything. No one else will fight back if the miners lose. They'll be too frightened for their own jobs.

We can get away with anything.

Anything.

So they did.

Then came the wholesale dismantling of the country. Assets stripped, sold off. Public utilities that we already owned were sold back to us –

No. –
were, sold back to some of us –

No. –
were selectively sold back –

No. No good.

Larkin sat back, clicked
SAVE.
Time for a break.

He closed the lid of the laptop, cracked a can of Stella, put the TV on. News. He watched.

The man walked into Newcastle Crown Court expensively but soberly suited and styled, self-importance fronting his every step, stonewalled by minders and solicitors, leaving cameramen and gawkers scrumming in his wake. His face was drawn and haggard yet arrogant and defiant, like a fading rock star refusing to cede ground to changing fashion or disappearing youth.

The
Ten O'Clock News
voice-overed in news-with-a-capital-N tones:

‘Clive Fairbairn, seen here on the first day of his trial, was found guilty on sample charges of supplying class-A narcotics, conspiracy to supply, conspiracy to pervert the course of justice, attempting to bribe a police officer and grievous bodily harm. In his summing-up the judge said –' the screen swirled to a transcripted graphic ‘– “This is one of the most serious cases I have ever been associated with. Your willingness to exploit the weaknesses of others and callously profit from that is, in my opinion, shockingly unparalleled.”'

Cut to the reporter standing outside the Crown Court, brow furrowed, eyes dancing with manic glee. The look said: career-making story means bye-bye regional, hello national. Desk drawers emptied, phone call awaited.

‘Now we'll take a look back at the career of Newcastle's Mr Big, one of the most notorious gangland figures ever to come out of the north-east.'

Black and white footage of 1960s-era Newcastle montaged across the screen; old streets, poor people and bad housing morphed into images of bars and clubs awash with ale and martinis, the women beehived and desperate, the men Brylcreemed and hungry. Soundtrack by the Animals, dancing by Douglas Bader. The report a big production number wobbling between terse moralizing and jocund voyeurism.

Fairbairn's verdict meant media open season, the new palliative of hate, a cloaked music-hall villain drawing the general public's fire, leaving secret empires undisturbed, secret histories untold. Stephen Larkin, watching, took another mouthful of beer and tuned out. He knew a Stalinist exercise in airbrushed history when he saw one.

Once, Larkin himself would have been scrumming outside the court, fighting to be first with the news, his name in print, his by-line in the public's face. Now he was content to watch others run around. Pursue his own agenda.

He had been in the flat for more than two months. Enough time to settle in, not enough to feel at home. The walls held oblong patches of richer colour where the previous tenant had hung pictures now removed. Along with a table, the cheap Lloyd Loom-copy chair he sat on was the only furniture in the room. Boxes and crates dotted the floor like stepping stones, his past compartmentalized, only opened when needed. They contained functional items, books, CDs, a few mementos. Life, for Larkin, was a casting off, not a gathering up. The laptop and printer sat on the table, paper and workbooks piled next to them. In front of a set of bare shelves in the corner sat an unconnected stereo system. He would shelve things, connect things, as he went along. Only when the boxes were empty would he consider calling the flat home.

The one bay window was curtainless; sodium dusk threw shadows against the walls, around the alcoves, where they danced with radiated TV images, filling the room with lonely, flickering wraiths.

Larkin had moved from his old house to his new flat in an attempt to discard the past, exorcise his ghosts.

He took another swig of Stella, stared at the missing picture spaces, tried to imagine what had once been there.

The TV news was finishing with Clive Fairbairn, the reporter's final words wreathed in triumph, mouth twisted with pride, as if he'd put the man away himself.

Back to the studio. And in other news: the countryside cattle pyres still burning. The privatized transport infrastructure dangerous and inoperable. A health service that needed a health warning, an education system no one seemed to learn anything from. The New Labour government begging the electorate to forget all that, vote them in for a second term in the forthcoming election.

BOOK: Born Under Punches
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